Everyone knows a pack rat with a garage full of useless items that will never see light again. When it is time for a garage sale, the pack rat finds an excuse to hold onto those items, because “they might come in handy one day.”
One grassroots organization seeks to put an end to this obsessive behavior. The Freecycle Network (TFN) stemmed from the ideas of one Arizonian in May 2003, according to freecycle.org. Deron Beal, the founder of the non-profit group, became fed up with the number of reusable goods that were getting thrown into hazardous landfills. Beal decided to start an e-mail group consisting of local citizens of Tucson, Ariz., in an effort to promote waste reduction. What started as a modest group of about 50 citizens grew to more than 4,000 groups consisting of millions of people spanning more than 70 countries.
The sole purpose of this recycling phenomenon, according to freecycle.org, is “to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.” Every chapter is run by a local moderator through Yahoo! Groups, but Beal wishes to change the online venue of his organization to an even more efficient one in the near future.
Essentially the groups are organized “gifting groups.” While individual group rules vary, one guideline is always followed: everything must be free, legal and appropriate for all ages. This is also not a barter system – it is an outlet to rid garages and attics of goods that deserve a new home and a better life with someone who actually needs them.
Members can post items they need as well as those they are willing to give away. Now, the key word is “need.” It’s important not to abuse the privilege of requesting items – this means it’s not OK to post a request for an Apple iPhone. The requested items typically include computer equipment, vinyl records, moving boxes, dehumidifiers and even kittens. Many local charities register with groups, so they usually get precedence if more than one member desires an item posted for offering.
This process probably sounds familiar. Craigslist, an online classifieds, offers a section of free items that locals are willing to relinquish to others.
If getting as much free stuff as possible is a member’s only motive, Craigslist might be a more suitable option. The benefit of “gifting” through TFN is its devotion to giving away free items without any quid pro quo – also known as gift economics. Its heavy moderation is also appealing since it ensures the absence of spam and self-promotion.
Little time is necessary to sign up for the group. All it takes is a visit to the main Web site, freecycle.org, and a quick search for the desired region. There is also a small application process involved – an effortless task to ensure legitimate posting on the site. If there is no group located nearby, members are encouraged to start their own.
A group exists for the general Tampa Bay region, as well as one specific to the Temple Terrace, Busch and USF areas.
Considering a staff of one runs the movement, it’s understandable that the network experiences occasional difficulties.
“Not all Freecycle gifts work out well,” said USF alumnus Ben Ostrowsky. “I once drove almost an hour to pick up ‘beer-making supplies,’ which turned out to be an open, half-empty can of malt syrup.”
Ostrowsky revisited the Dumpster where he pitched the “supplies” the following day and compared the scene to one in the film Alien when the “molecular acid” was eating through the hull.
“There was malt syrup oozing downhill from the Dumpster into the parking lot. It baked into the pavement. I bet it still smells like malt syrup to this day,” said Ostrowsky.
Safety is also a concern. The group moderators can maintain online content, but cannot be in control of what takes place during an exchange. Once an offer is accepted, a delivery method must be agreed upon. This can include giving a home address and leaving the item on the porch or meeting in a mall parking lot – whatever is most comfortable for both parties involved.
TFN is something that could really create a sense of community on campus.
“I’ve only actually completed one Freecycle exchange, but I love the concept, and I’m planning on posting a lot more stuff,” communications major Jacqueline Maas said.
TFN manages to keep 55 tons of goods out of landfills each day, proving its tagline – “changing the world one gift at a time.”
To find out more information about Freecycle and how to get involved, go to freecycle.org.